On King Canute

King Canute had courtiers, many a one,
And flatterers not a few,
And they told to Canute that under the sun
There was nought that he could not do.

Then out spake King Canute, “Quite well I know
Monarch and King are we
Wend you with me to the beach below,
We will gaze on that glorious sea.”

To the beach below he royally strode,
And sat himself on the sand,
And he cried to the billows, as onward they rode,
“Hasten back! It is my command.”

Yet onward rolling on the billows came,
Stopping not in their rage,
Scornfully flinging their angry foam
In the monarch’s blushing face.

Then up rose the king with scorn on his brow,
As the billows rushed by his chair,
And he cried to his courtiers, still whispering low,
Full of shame and contrition there:

“Go, flatterers, go ye hence, go away, begone,
Wiser be from this day,
Mark you this lesson: there is but one
Whom the winds and the waves obey!”

(Mistress Lyndall Albury, “The Real Bahamas, Vol. II”)

There’s a lot of talk these days about What We Should Do with the Haitian immigrants who are invading our land, causing all the trouble that has plagued us over the years. The most common refrain in the conversation is this one: “Send ’em back!” Even in the most enlightened debates, when the brightest of the bright are gathered to solve the weighty problems of the now, this refrain continues. “Send ’em back!” When politicians who have spent some time studying the problems surrounding immigration, illegal and otherwise, propose solutions that do not fit into this paradigm, they are dismissed as fools and idiots. It is obvious that there is only one solution that can possibly work: send ’em back.

Too bad more of us don’t know the story of King Canute.

If you don’t know the story, he was a Viking monarch who for whatever reason stood upon the seashore and commanded the waves to turn around and go back. They didn’t. They came up and wet him from head to toe. Well, of course they did. That’s what waves do.

To me, that’s what the situation with the Haitian migrants is like. We live in a relatively wealthy country that sits between the poorest nation in the region and the richest, and there is a law of migration that states that people from poor nations will move into rich nations, and not the other way around. If a poor nation is on the border of a rich one (or even of a richer one — witness the Haitian settlements in Cuba, for instance) then there is nothing that the richer nation can do to prevent immigration. It comes with the territory of being rich.

And so those people who believe that it is possible send ’em home, stop ’em from coming, whatever it is that we appear to expect the Government to do, are all like King Canute as he stood on the seashore shouting at the waves. You see, whether it pleases us or not, the fact is that governments for forty years or more have been trying their hardest to “send ’em back”; but “they” keep coming, and have kept on doing so, even in the face of the hate that awaits them here. Forty years should be long enough to convince even the most stubborn and prejudiced among us of the fundamental impracticality of stopping Haitian migration.

How long will it take us to learn the lesson that Canute taught his courtiers — that “there is only One whom the wind and the waves obey”? We can’t stop migration — we’ve tried — so why aren’t we considering how to turn this weakness into a strength? Why are we ignoring the voices of those people who have considered possibilities, and have suggested them to us? We have been burying our heads for so long now that we should have a very good knowledge of sand.

It seems to me that if the good Lord sees fit to bless The Bahamas with the immigrants who live here and help to make the country the prosperous one that it is, then that is His Will and His Design for our nation. It is time, I believe, that we recognize that as long as we are a rich nation, we will have to deal with immigrants. It is time, too, to recognize that because our services are paid for primarily by customs duties — taxes that are paid when goods enter the country and not levied on people’s salaries, no one who resides here lives here tax free. It is impossible to buy food from Bahamian food stores, gas from Bahamian pumps, or clothes from Bahamian shops without paying taxes; every resident, and even every tourist, pays for the services our government offers for free. If the good Lord sees fit to bless us with immigrants, then who are we to reject his blessing?

Now don’t get me wrong (though I’m sure many people will do so). I’m not trying to suggest that our nation is not challenged with accommodating the high numbers of immigrants. But what I am suggesting is that the “solution” spouted by so many of us is not a solution at all. It is time to recognize that we are facing a wave, and that like Canute, none of us can turn it back. It is time for us, therefore, to do the only thing one can do when facing a wave: consider all your alternatives. And learn to float.

Click here for a similar sentiment expressed in American terms

One thought on “On King Canute

  1. You gave no concrete suggestions to solve this dilemma and you make it seem like we dont have a choice in the matter. is that fair to Bahamians?

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